This baby blue sleeper Beetle packs a 517-horsepower pancake surprise

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A baby blue Super Beetle has to be one of the most friendly-looking vehicles in the collector car ether, and that might make it the perfect foundation for a sleeper build. If you’re still skeptical, take a look at the ’73 Volkswagen built by off-road racing veteran John Reynolds. What looks like an ordinary, puttering Bug is, well, anything but.

Like Theodore Roosevelt says, it’s all about speaking softly and carrying a big stick—or gobs of extra power between the rear wheels. Reynolds sneakily shoved a water-cooled Subaru flat-four engine under that rear hood.

The amount of work it took to accomplish this swap isn’t immediately apparent, especially because everything fits just so. Reynolds explains the ins and outs of his build to Nicole Johnson, fellow off-road racer and host of the Nicole Johnson’s Detour YouTube show. The entire rear portion of the car had to be rebuilt in an effort to bring the engine and transmission just four inches farther forward, so the rear body could retain its stock look. The radiator fitment in the frunk is also rather tidy and uses the stock air inlet that was originally for an air conditioning condenser. Which, yet again, keeps the whole package looking very unassuming.

The clunk as Reynolds shifts into first gear is the first hint that something wicked this way comes. The transmission is a full-race dog box, meaning the synchronizers between the four gears have been removed and replaced with stronger and more aggressive means of engagement. It is not a car for the faint of heart, and that’s apparent before you get to pushing on the gas.

The tuned Subaru powerplant makes 517 horsepower at the tire, which is moderately alarming when you’re dealing with a set of wide and sticky treads. Given that a naturally aspirated engine has little trouble motivating the roughly-2000-pound Beetle, whatever turbo lag the boxer-four exhibits is unnoticeable as the featherweight German takes off from a stop.

The whole car seems impressively, terrifyingly perfect. I want no part of changing the spark plugs on that Subaru engine, now that its tucked so far up the VWs hind end, but modern engines don’t need a lot of service compared to the original air-cooled VW engine. Either way, dusting some unsuspecting Mustang GT from a stoplight sounds be all-too tempting. Hot rod Beetles have a rich history, and this patently absurd sleeper fits right into that lineage.

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